This month’s AHC game changer is Mary Benbenek, Ph.D., R.N., the coordinator for the family nurse practitioner area of study within the University of Minnesota School of Nursing. A dedicated nursing leader, Benbenek teaches various courses and clinical seminars within the DNP program at the School of Nursing as well as assists with the placement of students at clinical sites. In addition to her work as an educator, her passion for improving the quality of life for the Somali community surrounding the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus is what makes her a game changer.
The Twin Cities is home to the largest East African population in the country, and in Somali culture, as Benbenek described, there hasn’t been a high cultural emphasis placed on prenatal care and early childhood education.
That is why Benbenek began to work fervently with East African women and children to help them become acquainted to life in the United States at the East African Women’s Center.
There, her team and the staff at the East African Women’s Center administered informal surveys and focus groups to determine the amount of knowledge the women had in these areas. They then formulated the best way to help the women while respecting cultural preferences. As a result, Benbenek and colleagues laid the groundwork for the development of a comprehensive community based prenatal education program, a major achievement.
“The East African Women’s Center was a safe place to talk and express concerns. It broke the social isolation that a lot of the women were experiencing,” said Benbenek. “It also gave them tools for readying their children for life in the U.S.”
Unfortunately, the center was recently closed due to a lack of funding. But looking forward, Benbenek seeks to instill a sense of cultural sensitivity in her students.
“I try to give my students a good understanding of multicultural aspects they may encounter,” said Benbenek. “I think it’s important for students to evaluate their own health beliefs and values in order to appreciate the differences in beliefs among others.”
Due to the impact of Benbenek and her team’s work, she received a Public Service award from the School of Nursing in 2012. As she continues to put an emphasis on cultural sensitivity and helping underserved populations, Mary Benbenek truly stands out as a game changer.